Stan Fong was moving right along in early 2014, busy as ever—running his IT consulting company, serving as a member of the Atlanta Pride Committee and as a board member of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), and being a regular presence at LGBT events throughout town. But then something turned up on an X-ray following a car accident and his doctor delivered the news—he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Fong looks back on telling his loved ones the bad news, going through chemotherapy and his advice to others given the same diagnosis, as well as addresses the biases against the Asian-Pacific Islander community.
So tell me about your cancer fight. How did you find out?
What happened was I had a car accident and in a follow-up after the accident they did an X-ray of my chest, and during the X-ray they found a mass the size of a softball. It turned out to be a malignant tumor. I was already experiencing some breathing problems, which I assumed was because I was out of shape but it really was the mass pressing against my heart.
Luckily it was the first year I got health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. It was one of those things where everything was luck. The accident, my first year of health coverage, everything was great—even though it was cancer, it was great. It was six months of intensive chemo and as of right now I am a year-and-a-half in remission.
How did you handle hearing the diagnosis?
You know, I’d reached a point in my life where I pretty much was accepting of anything that would happen. It wasn’t hard for me to handle the news. It was harder for me to break the news to friends and family, especially my mom. My mom and I’s relationship hasn’t been the most perfect relationship, but I had just reached the point in my life where she was able to tell me that she was not praying for me every night [laughs].
What was the hardest part of that process?
Seeing how everybody else reacted to it. It’s very hard for me to ask for help. I’m more likely to disappear like a wounded animal and just go hide in a corner somewhere [laughs]. That was my instinct but the friends and family that I had made me come out and let them know. I had a lot of trouble trying to communicate with my family about what was happening because everybody wanted to know everything. But my sister, who’s a registered therapist at Children’s [Hospital of Atlanta], was an intermediary between me and my family so she got all the information and she talked to all of them for me.
I was told to take a break and slow things down and I tried to work through my treatment. It’s tough when your job is to solve problems and to think a lot and you realize that you’re having hallucinations or you’re having side effects from the chemo that make you not think straight at all. So I couldn’t rely on my thinking for a long period of time.
What advice would you give someone who receives a similar diagnosis and is about to go through the same experience?
Find people you can joke with about your situation. When people asked me what I needed, I told them ‘I need more cancer jokes.’ If you have cancer jokes, send them my way because the world needs more cancer jokes. And there also needs to be more headwear for guys who are going through chemo because the wigs and the knitted hats that they have catalogs for in the chemo room don’t fit men very well.
Turning to your social justice work, what kind of bias do you see against API people within the LGBT community?
I can easily talk about online dating when people say ‘No fats, no femmes, no Asians.’ That’s my favorite one. It automatically discounts me in like three different ways [laughs]. The other part is understanding that sometimes it’s harder to come out as a gay man in the Asian community. Simple things like your boyfriend meeting your parents, if you have an Asian parent that’s harder. It’s not just a cultural barrier but also a language barrier.
In the LGBT community, the vision of the Asian community is whitewashed to the point where ‘Oh if you’re Asian, you must be Chinese,’ when in reality there’s Koreans, Southeast Asians, and so many different skin tones. I get mistaken for Filipino quite a bit when really I’m just Chinese. I’ve visited Hawaii and been mistaken for a native rather than a tourist.
It was also a big deal for me to see gay Asian characters on TV the very first time, not just in movies like “The Wedding Banquet.” There was a daytime soap where there was a gay character who just happened to be Asian and the storylines talked about him being gay and Asian. And not only that but he was hot and he was masculine, he wasn’t effeminate. That’s a big deal. That’s just some of the stereotypes in the community.
A lot of people ask me how they can get more Asian people to show up to their events and I say you just have to ask. I show up because I want to do this work and I want to be part of my community. I do it because I still like doing it and I’m not going to guarantee that I’m going to like doing it for the rest of my life, but at the moment I love doing what I do. I don’t want to be the leader for the Asian people in the community, but if the work that I do means that other people see an Asian person in a photo at an LGBT event, that’s the most important part.